Born in Lublin, Poland, Marcin Surma graduated from the Lodz Film School in animation and from the Maria Curie-Skldowska University in their Mathematics, Physics and Computer Science Department. Since then, his career has included positions as an illustrator, comic book artist, and art director.
Please give us your name, company, and position.
Hi! My name is Marcin Surma and I'm the art director of SUPERHOT and SUPERHOT VR.
Tell us more about your winning Into The Pixel piece -- what does it showcase? What was the inspiration behind it?
It's one of the illustrations that I made just after joining SUPERHOT to showcase the team what I had in mind when I imagined the enemies shatter into pieces... and also to have something to show in the "concept art" part of the kickstarter campaign (which in the end didn't include it). I also wanted to introduce the idea of a strong (so technical that it's almost unreal) directional light, sharp shadows and glimmering crystal... all of which in the end turned out to be the cornerstones of the game's visuals.
Funny thing, it's actually the piece's fourth iteration, I believe? I was iterating on the game visuals in-engine every day -- and each time we were in a dire need for some concept art (to include in an article or something), it always turned out that the illustrations looked way different than the game itself at that point of time -- so I had to iterate on the illustrations as well to keep them consistent with then-current visuals of the game.
Those iterations make a pretty interesting timeline themselves, I guess.
You created an artbook for SUPERHOT that also contains some trivia! Can you share one of your favorite trivia bits about the game and the art?
I'd spoil the book if I shared those bits! The making-of artbook is available online for everyone to read (http://xulm.pl/superhotartbook) so you can get all the trivia yourself.
And while I did leave a few trivia bits, I'd like to shine some light on a different cool thing about the artbook: a lot of ideas that were discarded early in regular SUPERHOT's developement returned later in the VR spinoff! Including what we call a real life hacker room, Amiga-like computers everywhere, floppies and such. All there in the artbook to see alongside the game itself... years later.
Come to think of it, the artbook includes one of the previous iterations of the Into the Pixel piece. That's a trivia right there!
You have also done work for animated shows and comics--how does creating art for video games differ when compared to expressing your art in other mediums?
I like to think of it as a kind of a crop rotation. Different media and different projects (and different positions! Sometimes I happily stick to just backgrounds or character design only, sometimes I write a story and draw it as well (or direct and animate it), sometimes, like in SUPERHOT, I take over the visuals of the game, including both the concept and execution... along with modelling, animations and shader programming even) keep me excited for working in areas I leave aside in other projects. Different parts of the brain, different muscles.
And, maybe, this rotation allows me to keep a different perspective on a way to do things -- free from "that's the way you do the thing in this industry" perhaps. If so, that's definitely a thing that helped SUPERHOT -- a game that itself is an FPS made as if First Person Shooters didn't have an established way to do. It's hard to say from my point of view, though.
What/who are some of the biggest influences on your art?
It's easy to start counting the influences and inspiration! Obviously Grzegorz Rosinski's Thorgal, Jerzy Wróblewski, Alex Toth, Bruce Timm, Chris Samnee, Genndy Tartakowsky's Dexter's Lab, Clone Wars and Samurai Jack, Hanna Barbera's Jetsons, Flintstones and Johnny Quest. For SUPERHOT in particular I kept circling around architecture, so Tadao Ando and even Boleslaw Stelmach. In video games it's Bubba n' Stix, Worms Armageddon, original Fallout, Planescape:Torment and Homeworld that helped me consider video games as something that's... more than you'd expect.
I could go on and on and on with movies and books, animated films, comic albums, paintings -- the truly hard part is to stop counting the influences. So if I had to pick just one, I'd probably say my brother (a great illustrator/comic book artist) was THE biggest influence! It was amazing for me as a kid to see someone do things other people could enjoy -- and I wanted to be able to do the same.
What tips would you give to students/aspiring artists that want to enter the gaming industry?
Never forget about showing your thing to the audience regularly -- both the Internet and colleagues alike. It's easy to lose direction in a self-feedback loop if you keep it all to yourself.
Always be ready to stop your work anytime and still be proud of it. It's best to have a prototype/sketch that's always playable -- and then iterate. And be ready to pivot if needed.
Also, take risks if you can. The industry (not only videogame industry, but a comic book, animated film, illustration ones as well) changes every year and it may be hard to plan forward.
Where can fans follow your work online or via social media?
I try to keep all the bigger pieces on my website (http://xulm.pl). There's always my twitter (http://twitter.com/xulmmlux) and tumblr (http://xulm.tumblr.com). Also, a few of my project have their own dedicated websites, like my LEGO illustration project (http://surmalegobros.com) or a decade old Fallout fan-comic called Vault 12 (http://xulm.nma-fallout.com/vault12).
And, as a final word: It's been amazing to have my work be included in such a great selection.
It's an honor -- thank you.
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